What a contrasting two seasons for Mainz 05:
- 2015/16 Season: 46 goals scored, 42 goals conceded: 50 points, Finished in 6th place.
- 2016/17 Season: 44 goals scored, 55 goals conceded: 37 points, Finished in 15th place.
With the book closed on Mainz’s 2016-17 season, it’s time to look back at a season starting with promise and the excitement of European competition, but one that ended with the team avoiding the relegation playoff, solely on goal differential.
Qabala 2-3 Mainz 05, 29 September, Europa League Round 2.
No, this wasn’t their opening match of the Europa League — that came two weeks earlier when the 05ers saw a late St. Etienne goal allow the French side to head home with a draw. This was when the made the longest journey of their group stage to the Caucasus and Azerbaijan. Two second half goals by Jhon Córdoba and Levin Öztunali allowed the side to head home with all three points. This was the high point because it saw the club even at the top of their group with Anderlecht on four points. The group looked promising at the beginning and things were looking good at this point. Things were also positive in Bundesliga play through the end of the month. The club had picked up 7 points so far, with wins over Augsburg and Werder Bremen along with a 4-4 draw with Hoffenheim. They were currently in 8th place and their two losses were to Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, and there was no cause for concern at that point.
Darmstadt 2-1 Mainz, 11 March, Bundesliga Matchday 24.
I just as easily could have stated that the 6-1 pounding Anderlecht put on them to effectively end their hopes of reaching the Europa League knockouts was the worst moment. However, there is something morale draining in going to bottom of the table side Darmstadt and losing 2-1. This started a run of 5 straight losses, all of them by a single goal, including two weeks later away to 17th place Ingolstadt. This ignominious streak saw the 05ers drop down to 15 place and make the remainder of the season a battle against relegation.
The cursory comparison between Mainz’s 15/16 season this past season shows the only major change is in defense, where the side conceded 13 more goals. With Lorus Karius moving on English side Liverpool, the goalkeeper position was always going to be a question mark heading into the season. But it never felt like it was fully answered. Jonas Lossl got the lion’s share of starts for the club, but according to InStat, he ranked 25th out of 27 eligible goalkeepers. The stats go on to say that backup Jannick Huth was the better keeper, but InStat shows that he was simply average amongst his Bundesliga peers. Along the defensive line everyone was largely average, with Daniel Brosinski the highest ranked by InStat as the 10th highest ranked left backs. Besides his stand out defensive performance in 29 matches he scored a goal in the hard fought 2-2 tie with Bayern Munich back in April and assisted on two others.
In the middle of defense the statistics show that the best pairing for Mainz was Stefan Bell and Niko Bungert, but they were ranked as just the 24th and 25th best centerbacks in the league. However, due to injuries and Coach Martin Schmidt’s selections the pairing only played together for 503 minutes or 16% of the Bundesliga season. Getting these two on the pitch at the same time should help solidify a back line that conceded 55 goals, the most they had conceded since Mainz had been promoted up to the Bundesliga following 2008-09 season.
The midfield was where the midseason departures came from and they hurt this team badly. When Yunus Malli left for Wolfsburg in January, he took with him six goals and five assists, accounting for 42 percent of what they’d scored. While Levin Öztunali filled in well in the second half of the season, his passing was underwhelming. Despite assisting four times to add to his three goals, InStat shows that he completed just 65% of his passes, an average of 25 passes per 90 minutes. Mainz needed more from him in terms of controlling the ball and tempo of their matches and weren’t able to get that. The 21 year old is still young, and this was his first season with the club, so the he still has promise for the future, but for the club to rely on him so much after selling Malli was a bad move that just barely avoided catastrophe. The midfield also seemed to be the most confusing place in Schmidt’s lineup and he had problems finding regular starters. Eight players played over 900 minutes this season for the club as Schmidt continued to tinker with the line-up while not finding an effective solution.
Bringing in Bojan Krkic on loan in January from Stoke City looked like a promising move as cover for Malli. But the former Barcelona winger scored just once and assisted once more in his eleven appearances. Stamina could have been part of the problem for Krkic, as he only played a full 90 minutes in four of his 20 league appearances for both Mainz and Stoke this season.
Going forward the 05ers were led by Jhon Cordoba, who had arrived from La Liga side Granada on loan the previous summer, and the Colombian international made an immediate splash. After making a permanent move to Mainz, Cordoba missed the season opener against Borussia Dortmund but scored in each of the next two matches, and assisted in the third match. Unfortunately this pace was not sustainable and his InStat index score finished of 271, good for 24th best in the league. He scored five goals and assisted on three others. Another year with the club could help Cordoba find more success on the field.
While Cordoba was the team’s primary striker, Yoshinori Muto continued to grow his game in a back-up role. The 24 year old Japanese International scored 5 goals despite missing 10 games due to ligament damage in his knee. Before the injury he scored twice off the bench. Once he returned at the beginning of the Ruckrunde, Muto’s role began to increase and in the last seven match days, he accounted for half of the team’s 10 goals (3 goals, 2 assists). With both of these players growing in confidence with the club, new Mainz manager Sandro Schwarz should look into a two striker formation in order to get both Cordoba and Muto on the field more.
Unfortunately, the side won’t also have Florian Niederlechner in the fold for the upcoming season He spent last season on loan with Freiburg and the Black Forest side moved quickly to make the move permanent. Niederlechner scored 11 goals, seeing him finish in a tie for 10 place, and more than both Cordoba and Muto combined.
What to Improve?
While you could argue that every position needs strengthening this offseason for Mainz, I believe that specific focus needs to be given to the back line and goalkeeper. Since the club earned Promotion to the Bundesliga in 2009, the side’s fortunes have depended largely on their defense. They’ll score somewhere around 45 goals each season, but whether they’ll finish in the top half of the table or not is due to whether they can concede about 40 goals. With a more stable backline that could help turn some of those 1 goal defeats into points. It appears that the clubs is going in this direction as well. German International goalkeeper Rene Adler has been signed on a free transfer already from Hamburg. While last season was not a great one for the 32 year has plenty of Bundesliga experience and can push both Lössl and Huth or the more likely result that he’ll grab the #1 goalkeeper role for himself.
There is no nice way to put it, last season was a mess for the 05ers. Yet when they slid into their final spot of 15th just above the relegation playoff spot, there seemed to be no fightback, as they scored just 10 times in those final 7 matches. Their saving grace was that that Wolfsburg were just as much of a mess, and that they got smashed at home to Bayern Munich on Matchday 31 by a score of 6-0.